Some random thoughts about yesterday's Conference Championship games.
1) One person tweeted back to us after the (AFC) game: "I wasn't totally believing the Pats are cursed- I was 75% with you. INT made me 100%." I believe there is a certain psychological element to all of this. Belichick looked like he was stoned on some of those decisions for punts. Call it guilt or whatever you want. He did not coach to win the game.
I have watched the replay of the Tyree helmet catch so many times and I have to believe it is evidence of divine intervention. I really thought that the Pats would win vs BAL and maximize their pain the following game in an ever larger loss to the NFC (Niners) in XLVII. NE lost Gronkowski last year in the AFC Championship, and his high ankle sprain in XLVI was a HUGE difference in the Gmen winning. So Gronk goes down again last week with a broken forearm... poof... the Patriots have just lost a huge part of their offense. And then Talib goes down, and the dominance of NE in the early part of the game seemingly vaporized as fast as it did for Dallas in the 2007 Divisional playoffs when Flozell Adams went down.
2) I think I may need to rename this blog the TE blog. TIGHT ENDS RULE! How many times have mentioned how important they are in the red zone? To the regular audience here, way too many times. Well, yesterday's display of GREAT Tight End play was a clinic in seeing how vital they are in today's NFL. Tony Gonzalez. Vernon Davis. Dennis Pitta. And see above (1) for the ABSENCE of Gronk. Aaron Hernandez is not too shabby either. These guys gash opposing defenses. And the biggest thing I saw was how they broke offensive logjams for their QBs and Offensive Coordinators. In the first game, SF couldn't buy a yard on offense in Q1. Literally. In Q2, it ignited off of ONE single pass to Vernon Davis. The rest was like an avalanche. It was like the floodgates opened. Whatever imagery you want to use, from that point on, the Niners scored 28 points. And let's remember that Akers missed an easy FG AND Crabtree fumbled at the 1 yd line, or else it could have been 38 points. TEs are huge. They stress Safeties. They can't be guarded well by LBers after the line of scrimmage. And then when you get these freaks like (a healthy) Gronk, Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham, they can run wild on you.
In the BAL game, the same thing happened. The BAL offense was having all kinds of trouble. It was my opinion that Belichick had decided to take away the Flacco love affair with the long ball w 2 deep safeties, so you had to go underneath with crossing routes. Well, the WR crossing routes did not get used until later in the game, and that was big. But before that, the thing that got BAL's offense lubed was big passing plays to Dennis Pitta. Pitta is no TE rockstar. He is workmanlike in everything he does. He does not have the speed that guys like Davis and Graham have. But he can carve you up quietly. 5 receptions. 55 yards. 1 TD. Not bad for a guy who was taken in R4 right behind .. Aaron Hernandez.
Of course we did not even mention the swan song for the Legend, Tony Gonzalez. Everyone knows that Tony is going straight to Canton. What an exit he made. If he could have carried the team on his back singlehandedly, he would have. At the end of the game the 49ers were bracketing Gonzalez because they KNEW he was money. It forced Ryan to go away from him, and the result was a mess- no points in the second half.
Let's look at the totals for these players:
Now is this a statement for the importance of getting the ball to this position? These guys AVERAGED ~9 targets per player. And they had a 77% reception rate. Add in the double teams, and how valuable are these guys? Target them often.
3) Not sure why, but it was surprising how Kaepernick was not used on the Read Option. Nearly every time, they went to the RB. I remember Kaepernick running once all game. (The very effective check down scramble does not count.) You need balance and a big part of the way the Niners will beat BAL is with stressing of the Ravens Defense with the Read Option. You need to mix it up, so let's see some CP QB runs.
3a) Speaking of Kaepernick, where did this guy come from? Well, he was no surprise to our two draft analysts, who both loved him two springs ago. Pete had him in green, one of his 5 undervalued picks ranked 38th in the Draft: "Terrific Leader, big QB, good arm, does have it between the ears. Quality pick in R2. The QBs in R2 will be as good as the QBs taken in R1." Wonder also had him in green, one of his 5 undervalued players in the Draft, ranked at 41st in the Draft: "I like him more than most. Fast, strong, leader, good arm, good runner, worthy of attention in R2 (Colts, Pats, develop him!) or early R3. Could be a good pro." Every QB gets taken high, so when the 49ers took him in R2 at #36 in the Draft, that was a pretty respectable endorsement of his prospects.